Throughout his life, Linden has always thought of literature as something more than a distraction; in fact more like something inexcusably necessary. This conviction could be attributable to his mother’s prescriptive exercises or his father’s insistence, because his father, despite not having time for literature, never doubted its importance and transmitted that to his son. Occasionally his father told him he’d met a writer toward the end of the war who saved his life even though he didn’t have to, which Linden found enigmatic and later considered simply another story of a war that, in some sense, is only made up of stories; and that is how, apart from what his father might have thought about literature and its usefulness—which for Linden can only exist relative to another question, that of “what to do” with literature—he once again puts aside everything else just to read, this time to read the three books the old professor ordered shortly before his death. In the coming months, he will on various occasions devote himself solely to reading, ignoring the possibilities of getting in touch with his organization, in no small part due to the fact that a few weeks earlier some activists were murdered or committed suicide in a West German jail, leading Linden’s small world—the one he and his friends and acquaintances had created around themselves with the goal of eventually replacing the world outside, which they find increasingly strange—to shrink slightly while at the same time expanding with the hitherto unanticipated prospect of being murdered, as well as jailed and tortured. However, thinks Linden as he heads to a meeting where the cell plans to discuss the incident and possible reprisals, it may have been that those activists—whose names Linden, like many other young people throughout Europe, knows well: Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe, Gudrun Ensslin, and Irmgard Möller, who survived—weren’t murdered but rather killed themselves because of the failure of the last action intended to liberate them, the hijacking of an airplane, with passengers and crew, that was diverted to an African city—a city, in fact, where in the future Linden will live for some time (although naturally he doesn’t know that yet) and from whose airport he will depart on various occasions, wondering each time where the hijacking took place and whether any material evidence of it still exists—with the goal of starting negotiations with the West German government, which failed: the plane was attacked during the night, and the kidnappers were killed. That night, the members of Linden’s cell gather in a safe house in the Mirafiori Nord area that Linden rented under a false name a few weeks prior and paid for with the cell’s money but didn’t bother to furnish, so it has only a radio and a table lamp left behind by some guy who spent time in the commune across from the San Salvario Church where, at least officially, Linden lives. He can’t remember whether the guy left of his own volition or was kicked out. There are a few mattresses too, where the cell members recline to smoke and talk about the failed rescue of their German counterparts and their deaths in jail; but no conclusions will be drawn that night because they are all paralyzed by surprise and indignation and something similar to fear, as well as uncertainty about whether the deaths were murder or suicide, two options that have both supporters and detractors and that lead to different readings of the action as either a success or a failure. If it was murder, the confrontation with the State would only intensify, as the death of the German activists—whom the press, even the Italian press, were calling “terrorists”—clearly revealed the underlying violence of the State’s institutions of justice, which would sway public opinion toward those who strive to replace these institutions with another kind of legality, one less tied to the empire of money and inequality; if it was suicide—though the possibility of suicide in a maximum security prison built to avoid that very thing, seems absurd—the action was also successful, or at least apparently successful, because that means the political activists remained masters of themselves even when in the hands of the State. That demonstration of independence, of tragic autonomy, can be interpreted as a mandate and a lesson for those, like Linden and the other members of his cell (whose noms de guerre are as absurd as the one Linden chose for himself and only reluctantly bothered to memorize) who look to them as role models, but also leads to the conclusion—which Linden doesn’t dare posit openly that night, as his position in the organization is still precarious and continues to exclude him from armed actions, which is both a way to keep him safe until he has more experience and a tacit acknowledgment of the importance of his skills in another arena, in intelligence and investigation, in providing safe houses and commissioning false documents, for which it’s preferable that Linden float in the vague region between legality and the illegality the other cell members are completely immersed in—that they left their followers behind, choosing to voluntarily abandon the struggle rather than continue to face its consequences, which Linden finds more dignified as well as more fatuous. There is personal defeat in that abandonment, which for years will remind Linden of the personal defeats of those who, at one point or another, had struggled and lost, like his father, who fought the German occupation of north Italy and fascism and later, somehow, ended up feeling nostalgic for them both, trapped as he was in a web of loans that suffocated him and the carpentry workshop he’d set up in the neighborhood on the outskirts of Milan where Linden was raised, thus—without realizing it—providing his son with reasons for his bitterness and frustration that served as a backdrop to the theatrical actions Linden had carried out since he was a boy (or at least that’s what he thinks, tending to believe that everything, especially in childhood, is acting or posturing) and that led him to join the cell of political activists with whom he is sharing this particular evening. Linden doesn’t dare confess his doubts about the relevance of the action against the old professor or, better yet, about the conviction, seemingly accepted by them all, that this sort of action will bring about a new world with values slightly closer to those his father and other partisans fought for and were unable to impose even in the confusion of the war’s end. There is a possibility—which either no one realizes or they all prefer not to mention that night in the safe house—that the German activists achieved a, shall we say, posthumous victory by using their last dredges of freedom to make their suicides look like murders: putting the blame for their deaths on the State, obviously stained with blood since its very inception. While Linden understands and accepts this, it keeps him from imagining that the Germans might have faked their murders, because he believes—and this is, somehow, the line he doesn’t and never will dare to cross—that constructive political actions always have the truth on their side. This will condemn him and his entire generation, who will end up having to admit that that line was crossed time and time again, mostly out of ignorance. Nor does Linden dare to confess that night that, days earlier, violating every safety regulation, he went to the bookstore and acquired, out of curiosity, the books the old professor had ordered; nor does he dare to confess that the action was legitimized or would be legitimized if they knew at least the titles and authors of those books, because the old professor had ordered three books by authors known in the history of Italian literature—if they’re known at all, something Linden isn’t sure of: he doesn’t study literature but rather journalism, which he’s always considered a type of literature detached from its transcendent vocation, and Linden agrees that its aim and uses are limited to a fleeting present it captures only to immediately release, hopefully explaining, clarifying, and eventually transforming it, to the extent that’s possible—as fascist authors, writers who supported and celebrated fascism and collapsed with it. Yet Lin den’s impression that the action against the old professor was legitimized vanished when, as he read one of the books—whose author, Espartaco Boyano, he’d never heard of, like the other two, Ottavio Zuliani and Oreste Calosso—he found a familiar name. He, who knows absolutely nothing about nor has any interest in the literature of that period, had heard his father mention that name often when speaking about the final weeks of the war, when he accidentally separated from his partisan cell after an attack and dragged his broken leg through a ravine for a day (or two, he never was sure), directionless, until he reached a plain where he was found by a man who came out of the forest and saved his life and was not only his captor but also his friend. Then Linden thought he didn’t have the full story, and should go see his father and ask him everything, but he immediately remembered that his father had died on the outskirts of a hospital on the outskirts of Milan, deciding himself when and how, which since then Linden considers a “good” death, though perhaps that was just a way to console himself—despite it being obvious to Linden that, had his father died some other way, that death wouldn’t have truly belonged to his father, or to the man he’d known as his father, who volunteered for the Resistance and decided on each and every moment of his existence, except for his illness and debts. Lin-den could no longer talk to his father, and he’d have to find out everything he could about that man some other way: though he didn’t know when or how, not as he was reading those books, nor on that night when he’d kept all this to himself.
Excerpted from Don’t Shed Your Tears For Anyone Who Lives On These Streets by Patricio Pron. Copyright © 2020 by Patricio Pron. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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